Safety, One foot at a time

?Some foot problems are so common that they can occur in virtually any workplace and under any working conditions. Some common causes of foot problems include severely aching feet, blisters, calluses, corns, hard flooring, rheumatism, arthritis, malformations of toes, fallen arches (flat feet), bunions, and sprains. Some of the most common causes include long periods of standing, hard flooring, and poorly fitted footwear. Lack of arch support or too loose or too tight footwear may also contribute to foot problems. Sweaty feet, fungal infections (athlete?s foot) or hot and humid environment, strenuous work, footwear with synthetic (non-porous) uppers all play a role in foot problems. There are no comprehensive statistics on these kinds of problems with feet but surveys suggest that two out of every three workers suffer from some form of a foot problem.

One of the problems that you face concerning your foot issues as wearing the wrong shoes or boots for the job. Footwear that fits poorly or needs repair also contributes heavily to foot discomfort. Prolonged standing, hard flooring and inappropriate footwear are common working conditions. Are there jobs that are safe for feet? Statistics show there are not, every jobs has some kind of foot related hazard.

There is no workplace where a worker is immune to foot injury. However, the hazards differ according to the workplace and the types of tasks the worker does. The first step in developing a strategy to reduce foot problems is to identify the relevant hazards at the workplace. Such hazards should be assessed in each workplace, no matter how safe or how dangerous it may seem.

Aching, flat or tired feet are common among workers who spend most of their working time standing. The most important goal of job design is to avoid fixed positions especially fixed standing positions. Good job design includes varied tasks requiring changes in body position and using different muscles. Job rotation, job enlargement and team work are all ways to make work easier on the feet.

However, redesigning the job alone will not effectively reduce foot problems if it is not combined with the proper design of the workplace. Job and workplace designs also have the potential to increase foot safety in workplaces that are specifically hazardous.

For example effective housekeeping reduces the number of accidents at workplaces. Things like, loose nails, other sharp objects, and littered walkways are hazards for foot injury. Perhaps using colour contrast and angular lighting to improve depth vision in complicated areas such as stairs, ramps and passageways reduces the hazard of tripping and falling.

Proper footwear is important, not only for foot comfort but also for one?s general well-being. Improper footwear can cause or aggravate existing foot problems. Unfortunately, being fashionable sometimes takes precedence over choosing well-fitting, supportive safety footwear. However, many safety footwear manufacturers produce safety footwear that does look fashionable.

It is especially important for footwear for work to be not to tight and able to stretch with wear. Make sure you have both feet measured when buying work shoes, it is not uncommon for a persons feet to be different sizes, so buy your shoes to fit the larger foot size. Buy your shoes in the late afternoon when feet are likely to be swollen to their maximum size, consider using shock absorbing insoles where the job requires lots of standing or walking.

When selecting footwear, one should remember that tight socks or stockings can cramp the toes as much as poorly fitted shoes. Wrinkled socks, or socks that are too large or too small, can cause blisters. White wool or cotton socks may be recommended since colored socks cause skin allergies in some people.

For most of us here, we need CSA approved footwear (CSA-Z195-02). The best way to tell if your footwear is CSA Approved is to look for the green triangles present on the footwear. Part of the CSA approved requirements include: A steel toe cap should cover the whole length of the toes from tips to beyond the natural bend of the foot. (A soft pad covering the edge of the toe cap increases comfort). The soles come in a variety of thickness and materials, they need to be chosen according to the hazards and type(s) of flooring in the workplace. Uppers of protective footwear come in a variety of materials, and again the individual hazards determine the upper style of the footwear. The steel midsole of the boot which protects you against penetration by sharp objects should be flexible enough to allow the foot to bend.

So hopefully some of this helps and keeps you a little more comfortable at work.

Stay safe and I will talk to you again next week.

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Rob Mandeville is a Safety Advisor and Auditor at Action Health & Safety Services. He has his OH&S certificate from the UofA, and is currently studying for his CRSP ( Board of Canadian Registered Safety Professional) exams. If you have a question about health and safety or an idea for an article you can reach him at rob.mandeville@actionservices.ca